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July 10, 2013

Movie Review: Reform School Girls (1986)

"You're just a shit stain on the panties of life."

Would you ever say that to Wendy O. Williams? Neither would I. But apparently Edna, the matron of the Pridemore Juvie Home for Girls, doesn't give a damn.

Reform School Girls is a highly entertaining exploitation flick from 1986. Jenny has chosen a bummer of a boyfriend. Apparently she volunteered to be the wheel man for her beau's late night robbery and the resulting shoot out (but he promised no guns!) and car crash lands her first time offender tushie in reform school. Though she thinks the hard part is over (read: doesn't have to rot in jail with all the other hardened 15 year olds), Jenny is in for a rude awakening.

Welcome to Pridemore Juvenile Home, bitch.

The reform shit hole that will be Jenny's new home for the next three years is just as rough as jail. The girls have to make license plates; do hard labor out in the extreme heat (like a fucking chain gang of the 1930s); get shoved into solitary when they break the rules; and have to walk around their dorm in nicer lingerie than I've ever owned. Wait, what??

The Warden of the school is Sutter, a megalomaniacal drunk-with-power dictator who walks around slapping a riding crop against her hand and has the padded shoulders of a Dallas Cowboy linebacker. When she's not goose stepping around the dorms she's on the loudspeakers reading condescension from the Bible. For the day to day grind, no pun intended, Sutter relies on Edna, the two tons of fun matron. And by fun I mean ruthless brutality to all those that aren't ‘nice’ to her. *winkwink*

One of these nice gals is Charlie (Wendy O. Williams). She plays along with Edna and because of that, she basically rules the dorm and is not subject to the punishments and sadism of those in charge. Charlie and Jenny get off on the wrong foot from day one, particularly when it comes to a shy, terrified new fish named Lisa. Charlie wants Lisa to be under her protection, if you know what I mean, and Jenny says lay off.
From that moment on, Charlie and Jenny are at each other’s throats. Charlie relishes any opportunity to get Jenny or her friends on Edna's shit list. But after so many of these tiffs, Lisa gets caught in the middle and ends up quite the sad and sorry victim of Edna's idea of discipline. This finally galvanizes the girls to band together and stand up to the man, er woman, and get the truth out to the public about what really goes on at Pridemore.

And everyone lives happily ever after. Well, most of them do anyway. Live, that is.

I don't think I've ever had an appreciation for exploitation films before. Not even sure I've ever seen one. The closest I came was probably in 1985 with a vigilante flick called The Annihilators. My friends and I went to see it in the theater. After the first 15 minutes and witnessing a wheelchair bound character get bludgeoned with a meat tenderizer, we left. But now as an adult (notice I didn't say grown up because I don't think I have) I can look past the gratuitous nature of these films and just enjoy the ride. Even if it's on a road that full of chuck holes and land mines.

This is one of those movies where you just absolutely love to hate the bad guys and get drawn into the shininess of the innocents and cheer on the good guys - or women, as is the case in this movie. There is one male character, some guy Pridemore hires for the use of his truck and he gives the juvies the use of his stick shift. And he's a complete douche because he promises to help the girls escape but then turns them in at the last minute. Like I said: douche.

The character of Charlie is so over the top hard ass that you have to wonder if Wendy O was acting at all. The only problems I had with her were half the time she looked like she was reading her lines off cue cards and she was 38 at the time this was filmed. I don't care how good your genes are, you can't pass off as under aged teen when you're over 35. Though I have to admit that her ass looked 20.

Sutter isn't in the flick all that much so we really rely on Edna to show us how horrible and horrifying it can be to be locked up with a psycho in charge of your daily routine. I certainly didn't enjoy her kitty stomping scene (the second time I cried during the movie, btw). By the end, though, it's quite clear that Edna's elevator doesn't go all the way to the top floor and she's taken out in a giant blob of flaming glory.

For the "good guys", Jenny is the main character but she just irritated the hell out of me. Sure, I was happy that she stood up to Charlie and her crew but mostly I just wanted to smack her around a bit. Dr. Norton is one of those do-gooders but is thwarted at every turn, either by Sutter and Edna or the girls themselves who know how deep the shit can get if they squawk. Lisa is the true innocent in all this. After being in foster care, where she and her brother experienced hell, she ran away. Instead of trying to deal with her issues, she's simply thrown in reform school until she turns 18. Unfortunately several Edna induced traumas are just too much for her and she cracks. SPOILER: it's her accidental death, which is basically Edna's fault, that unites the girls in their quest to stop the madness at Pridemore.

While I don't truly understand the intricate details involved with making or directing a movie, and most of the exploitation films have that campy B feeling to them, I have to say RSG felt like it was on a slightly higher level. The acting was not superb but it was better than average. I think the set design, lighting, sound, wardrobe, and direction felt almost, but not quite, top notch. Sure, the movie looked and felt dated but that only added to its charm. You know, for a women in prison flick. If you’ve never experienced exploitation before, Reform School Girls is a great way to get wet. Get your feet wet! Your feet wet is what I meant.

4 (out of 5) Hatchets

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